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FOR COUPLE, DUTY CALLS

Angela and Ben Tarrant expected to be deployed. Just not at the same time.

For Sgt. Angela Tarrant, high school culinary teacher and Army reservist, it's a recipe for heartache. Tarrant, 39, has a job at Central High she loves and two young children and a husband to come home to every day.

Now, she's bound for a yearlong tour in Iraq. Her husband, Ben, a first lieutenant in the Florida Army National Guard, leaves in January for a year in Kuwait.

The kids - Nathan, 9, and Jaclyn, 6 - will stay with Tarrant's mother in Spring Hill for the 10 months both parents are away.

Angela Tarrant departs Sept. 27.

"It's something we always knew was a possibility," Angela Tarrant said. "We never expected it to be at the same time."

But the Tarrants, who met in New York in the late 1990s when they were both members of the Army's 10th Mountain Division and now live in Spring Hill, say they are at peace with the situation.

They thought about trying to get the military to stagger the deployments. But to them, it makes sense to get the duty out of the way now. The way they figure it, being gone at the same time is better than one parent enduring a year alone and the other having to go through that later.

"We kind of weighed our options and thought, eventually, we'll both have to go," said Ben Tarrant, 33, who works for the Army full time at Central Command in Tampa. "We came to the conclusion that these are the cards we've been dealt, so we're going with it."

The Tarrants will celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary Oct. 10. By then, Angela will gone.

The children so far are more excited than sad, Angela Tarrant said.

"It's like a 10-month play date with Grandma," she said.

- - -

But teachers and students at Central, who gathered at the school Thursday afternoon to say goodbye, are sad. Many tears flowed before and after they cut the massive green and brown sheet cake with the Army's eagle logo on top.

Tarrant would have celebrated her 10th year at the Brooksville school this fall. She received her orders back in March and decided to avoid the disruption of starting the school year and then leaving again.

She had warned co-workers for years that there was a chance she could get called for active duty and be sent to the Middle East.

"We just didn't want to believe it," said Denise Bradley, chairwoman of Central's Career and Technical Department. "It's a big shock that she's really going over there for a year."

"She was a culinary teacher, a mentor and basically another family member," said 17-year-old senior Michael Fitzgerald, who would have had Tarrant for a fourth year this year. "That she was actually going was just heartbreaking."

At Central, the culinary students run the Bear and Grill, an eatery for teachers, and cater school events. Tarrant used a deft touch to guide the kids, said Tom Lee, the school's other culinary teacher.

"She let the kids make mistakes and then learn from those mistakes. She didn't believe in cutting in," Lee said. "She wanted the students to run the Bear and Grill to the best of their ability, and that's a great way of teaching."

Students said the military's influence came through in the classroom, which for culinary class usually means the kitchen. But she wasn't a drill sergeant, either, and was often quick with a joke, students said.

"When it came down to doing work, she was really strict," said 17-year-old senior Ariel Ceccarelli, who was looking forward to taking her fourth class with Tarrant this year. "But when it came down to her as a person, she was really sweet."

Teachers and sergeants need similar skills, Tarrant conceded.

"Structure and discipline. You have to have it in the military and you have to have it in the classroom," she said.

But she said wit is an effective teaching tool, too.

"If you get them laughing, they're going to be happier, and they're going to do what you want them to do," she said.

Tarrant said she isn't sure what her mission will be during her time in Iraq. She's been assigned to the 11th Aviation Command, which provides command, control, staff planning, and supervision for two aviation brigades, according to the Army Reserve Web site.

Central principal Dennis McGeehan says Tarrant will be welcome to her job when she gets back in November 2010.

In the meantime, Jason Gray, a Navy veteran who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu and served admirals in Washington, D.C., will take her place.

Gray met Tarrant at Thursday's party. He walked up and took her hand.

"From one military member to another, I wish you nothing but the best," Gray said.

Tarrant says her hopes for her students won't change even though she's away:

"I just want them to learn, grow and be safe."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

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